Far from “hating” LIV – as Rory McIlroy said earlier this week – Phil Mickelson believes the Northern Irishman and the rest of the top players should “appreciate” the Saudi Arabian rebel ring that is forcing the PGA Tour to introduce huge incentives to appease elite golfers.
Even McIlroy felt obliged – albeit through gritted teeth – to admit that “some of his ideas had merit”, echoing Mickelson’s infamous rant against the Sawgrass club and his claim that star names were not properly compensated and that they should have played each other more often. .
And while Mickelson, as he continues to be treated as golf’s pariah, is careful not to take all the credit for the tour bringing in as much as $200 million a year starting next season — most of which is designed to find their way into the pockets of the heavyweights – the 52-year-old is keen to highlight LIV’s influence on the overhaul.
“Well, they get a lot for it,” Mickelson replied SI when asked what he thought of the tour’s most prominent performers committing to 20 Tour events. “So I’m extremely happy that the top players are being heard and that their input is being appreciated…. and what they are doing for the tour is appreciated now.”
Mickelson is adamant that without the threat of the $2 billion breakaway championship, funded by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Tour would not have changed its structure. The six-time major winner spent years making the case for the superstars but insists his pleas were ignored.
The frustration led him to accuse tour commissioner Jay Monaghan of “running a tyranny” and of “despicable greed” and also in his infamous comments in which he called the Saudis “a scary mother—– to deal with” before saying he was capable to contain his distaste for the country’s “appalling” human rights record because of the “leverage” it gave him on the tour. Mickelson eventually joined LIV in May in a $200 million deal.
“It was made very clear that nothing was going to happen,” Mickelson said. “If there was no leverage, nothing was going to change. And all players should appreciate what LIV is doing. The players in LIV for the opportunity they have. And the PGA Tour for the leverage provided to make these changes. Despite the multiple efforts of many players… I don’t think anything like this would have happened without the leverage that LIV Golf has provided. There was no leverage. There were no other options.”
Mickelson claims they have contacted Tour loyalists to express their thanks. “Numerous [have] – and I’m very grateful,” he said. “It’s from both sides. I think players on both sides of LIV and the PGA Tour appreciate what’s going on. Every player benefits.”
Mickelson believes his reputation will eventually be salvaged. “I feel like my legacy is being built right now,” he said. “The changes that professional golf is going through I believe are in the best interest of the fans and the players. I feel like it’s building right now. It hurts to see so much hostility and negativity, sure. I really think it will be worth it in the end and I think in the long run everyone will come out ahead.”
The left-hander is playing in the £20m LIV’s fourth 54-hole event in Boston this weekend in a 48-man field which will also feature the debut of Open champion Cameron Smith.
There have been vague reports that the majors may align with the Tour to ban the rebels – Sawgrass has confirmed that LIV players’ memberships for next season have been revoked as US Golf awaits a final court case set to begin in early 2024 – but Mickelson rejects that scenario, certainly when it comes to his beloved Masters.
“I believe wholeheartedly that I will be at Augusta. I thought about my conversations with [Masters chairman] Fred Ridley [in April] it was extremely classy,” said Mickelson, owner of three green jackets. “I have the utmost respect for him and the leaders of the bigs. There has been, to date, absolutely no threat. I’m not saying this can’t be changed. I just don’t see how this can benefit anyone. I think they are wise enough and great leaders to see that.”